I was recently in Copenhagen, Denmark for the Nordic Environmental Social Sciences Conference. Afterwards, I took a few days to return to one of my all-time favorite sustainability stars – Malmö, Sweden. Having studied and worked in Southern Sweden, I always enjoy returning ‘home’ and remain fascinated by how these two cities continue to drive urban sustainability forward. Granted, I used to work at the Malmö Environmental Department, so I am well-aware of the city’s sustainability vision; even now (in Amsterdam) I’m a researcher on city climate strategies. So, yes… this is my area of expertise and also my passion. Still, living a sustainable lifestyle in Copenhagen or Malmö is not just for the faithful treehuggers or urban planners – it’s for everyone.
Copenhagen has a bicycle commuting rate of 36%; in Malmö, this is about 40% – on par with Amsterdam. Both cities emphasize organic food in their public procurement – which is echoed by their citizens. Copenhagen boasts the highest consumption of organic food in the world, while Malmö has adopted a food policy emphasizing organic food in schools, less food waste and lower meat consumption. As global food waste and meat consumption continue to climb, this is a welcomed strategy. Concerning green space, Copenhagen recently adopted a mandatory green roof policy, while Malmö hosts the Scandinavian Green Roof Institute and encourages green roofs as part of its green space factor and green point system. Malmö was first spotted on the sustainable cities’ map with its 2001 Western Harbour Housing Expo, called Bo01, featuring an emphasis on green space, slow transport as well as 100% renewable energy. The Western Harbour continues to expand, testing the latest in green technology and planning ideas. Malmö builds on this in other districts and continues to push the envelope – political leaders refer to sustainability as a journey. Not surprisingly, an important part of its journey has been stable and visionary political leadership, such as that of Mayor Ilmar Reepalu who has served Malmö since 1994. In addition to civic leadership in Copenhagen, the city is also home to world-renowned architects and urbanists (such as Life Between Buildings author and my personal mentor, Jan Gehl). Copenhagen has also adopted its Climate Plan 2025 – to be carbon-neutral by 2025, as well as its Copenhagen Climate Adaptation Plan. In Malmö, by 2020, the local authority will be climate-neutral and by 2030 the whole municipality will run on 100% renewable energy. I could go on – I love these cities for many things, starting with their emphasis on sustainability and quality of life. But, I’ll stop here. Let’s just say there is healthy competition in the Öresund region to out-eco the other. No complaints there!
Policies and strategies aside, now when I return to Copenhagen and Malmö, I do so as a visitor – camera in hand, keen to capture just the right image of these cities of sustainability.